• Most of the tea bushes in the area were planted during the colonial era, hence the low production.
• The irrigation project is targeting high-value crops including pineapples, French beans, cabbages, tomatoes, lettuce and courgettes, among other crops.
Tea farmers at Rwabura in Gatundu, Kiambu county, are struggling to make ends meet as production of the cash crop dwindles.
The farmers, who rely on rain-fed agriculture for lack of irrigation, hardly make Sh15,000 from one acre of the crop per month.
Farmer Peter Mwaura has been growing tea and maize on his farm, but he has little to show for it.
“I have been a farmer for over a decade and I can tell you that you cannot make good returns from tea farming alone. For one to make a good income or be sustainable, you must have another source of income,” Mwaura said on Friday.
Farmer Matthew Kamau said production has been low, especially during the dry season.
“The soil here is good but farmers do not make much. Most of these tea bushes were planted in 1958 so production has gone down over time,” he said.
However, the farmers fortunes are set to change with the construction of the Rwabura Irrigation Scheme, which is being implemented by the National Irrigation Authority under an agreement with a Spanish contractor. The project is aimed at helping tea farmers shift their focus from tea to high-yielding horticultural crops.
Vincent Kabuti, the Rwabura Irrigation project manager, said the entire scheme will cover 11,275 acres and benefit 20,000 farmers.
He said the project is targeting high-value crops including pineapples, French beans, cabbages, tomatoes, lettuce and courgettes, among other crops.
Kabuti said the project will be implemented in three phases. Phase one is under 1,500 acres and will benefit 3,000 farmers each with half an acre at a cost of Sh750 million.
Construction commenced in September 2019 but there has been a delay due to Covid-19. It is expected to end in August 2021.
“We have signed Sh750 million loan agreement with the government of Spain and the project is expected to continue as soon as the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. With irrigation, farmers will be able to get high yields and the expected returns from the project would be Sh390 million annually. The project will also create employment for 7,500 residents,” Kabuti said.
Phase two comprises construction of two dams with a combined volume of 21 million cubic metres of water to irrigate 5,000 acres.
This, he said, has not been financed, and they are still in the process of seeking finances.
Phase three will cover 6,000 acres.
Kamau, who grows passion fruits and cabbages for the local and export markets, said irrigation will increase production and crop diversification not only for him, but other farmers in the area.
“A farmer can grow 7,000 cabbages in half an acre and with each cabbage retailing at Sh20, this can translate to Sh1400,000 in four months. This is equivalent to what a tea farmer gets from tea bonuses in two years. In addition, a quarter an acre will yield 270 passion fruits which after three months can earn a farmer an income of Sh370,000 through export or local market,” he said. Kamau is the chairman of Rwabura Irrigation project.
Edited by A.N